A multidisciplinary group of students is entering the International Genetically Engineered Machine competition (iGEM) and is the first team to enter for ASU. iGEM is the premier undergraduate synthetic biology competition.
The ASU iGEM team is particularly excited because they are working with a relatively recent discovery and a hot research topic, CRISPR. Bacteria and archaea possess a unique and rapidly adaptive mechanism to combat the threat of viral invasion. This mechanism of ‘bacterial defense’ uses Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeat (CRISPR) DNA sequences that work in concert with a set of CRISPR-associated (Cas) proteins.
The ASU iGEM team is working to develop a modular platform for synthetically directing the CRISPR-Cas system to silence genes of interest, such as antibiotic-resistant genes or genes associated with bacterial pathogenicity. If successful, the team will be able to silence any desired gene in a prokaryotic organism using an easily customizable system.
Each team uses a kit provided by the Registry of Standard Biological Parts, then adds parts of their own design to build a biological system. Teams work over the summer in preparation for the fall competition.
iGEM began as a design course in 2003 at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Students in the course designed systems to make cells blink. In 2010, 130 teams competed with projects ranging from wintergreen-smelling bacteria to an arsenic biosensor. The grand prize is a huge aluminum Lego that, like the Stanley Cup, the winning team keeps for one year.
Due to the competition’s growth—71 teams from the Americas, 46 from Asia and 49 from Europe—iGEM will be holding regional jamborees in October, with a percentage of the teams advancing on to the 2011 world championship held at MIT in November.
You can follow the ASU team at: http://2011.igem.org/Team:Arizona_State.
ASU iGEM 2011:
Advisor: Xiao Wang, assistant professor, School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering
Madeline Grade, Biomedical Engineering, senior
Daniel Garry, Molecular Biosciences and Biotechnology, senior
Kylie Standage-Beier, Genetics, Cell & Developmental Biology, sophomore
Ethan Ward, Biomedical Engineering, junior
Joseph Flay, Biomedical Engineering, senior
Keith Dyson, Biomedical Engineering, senior
Nisarg Patel, Molecular Biosciences and Biotechnology, sophomore
Ruben Acuna, Computer Science, 4+1 master’s student (’11 grad)
Abhinav Markus, Biomedical Engineering, sophomore
Anthony Vaccarello, Biochemistry, senior
High school intern: Juan Padilla, senior, Biosciences High School